A new law signed by Governor Gavin Newsom gives California residents another option besides burying or cremating a loved one.
Assembly Bill 351, authored by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (DâBell Gardens), allows for the establishment of natural organic reduction facilities in California. These facilities turn human remains into soil â informally known as âhuman compostingâ.
Seattle-based Recompose offers natural organic reduction services in the Pacific Northwest. Morgan Yarborough, a funeral director with the company, told CapRadio the process provides both a meaningful and eco-friendly way to honor the deceased.
“When someone dies, they’re placed in one of our containers, so it’s a chamber that encloses the person,” Yarborough said. “And they’re placed in this vessel with a mixture of wood shavings, alfalfa and straw. And so they’re cocooned in there, if you will, and then this transformation takes place inside this vessel in about 30 days. .”
The containers are made of steel and surrounded by a hexagonal frame, according to Redial. They’re stacked in a shape that “resembles a honeycomb,” Yarborough said.
After the process is complete, the compost is removed from the container and allowed to harden for several weeks, she said. Family members can then use the human compost for gardening, or they can donate it to spread in conservation areas.
The cremation process, the demand for which has increased in recent years according to a report 2021 of the National Funeral Directors Association, requires the use of fossil fuels to process human remains. The incineration process can release particles such as sulfur dioxide, mercury and other heavy metals into the atmosphere.
Traditional burials can also pose environmental issues – the embalming process uses chemicals like arsenic and aluminum that can leach into the ground after the remains are buried, according to the United States Geological Survey. Maintenance of the cemetery lawn is highly dependent on wateran increasingly scarce resource as extreme drought continues to plague California.
âForest fires, extreme droughts, record heat waves remind us that climate change is real and that we must do everything to reduce methane and CO2 emissions,â said Garcia, the author of the project. law. in a prepared statement. “This is an alternative method of final disposal that will not contribute to emissions in our atmosphere and will in fact capture CO2 in our soil and trees.”
The adoption of a natural organic reduction process has not been without criticism â representatives of the Catholic Church in California have stated that the process “reduces the human body to a mere disposable product”.
Kathleen Domingo, executive director of the Catholic Conference of California, said the process can also create distance between the family and the deceased, in a statement to SFGate:
“[Natural organic reduction] basically uses the same process as a home garden composting system,â she said. âUsing these same methods for the ‘transformation’ of human remains can create an unfortunate spiritual, emotional and psychological estrangement from the deceased.
Yarborough said in his experience, however, that it was the opposite.
“I’ve never seen people connect to a death care process like the one I have with natural organic reduction, especially when they see this floor after a few months, they’re able to approach it, to touch it and know it was their person,” she said. “It’s a beautiful and really spiritual moment.”
Four states currently allow natural organic reduction: Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Vermont. Yarborough said the organization receives remnants from across the country and calls from people around the world who âfind what we are doing very meaningful. They want to know more and they want to support us.
The new law comes into force in 2027.
Steve Milne contributed to this report.
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